Round Table: Let's Talk About Super Mario
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Tom: Ahem, let’s move on.
So we almost all love Super Mario World with every fibre of our being. Super Mario 64, meanwhile, brought 3D gaming into the home. How revolutionary was it at the time, after almost a decade of pixel-based gaming? (With the odd polygon exception on SNES and Mega Drive)
Desiree: You don't want to know how many hours I spent just fiddling around with Mario's face at the title screen…
Joe: I will never, ever forget the first time I played Super Mario 64. I had been reading every preview in every game magazine I could get my hands on for months and was constantly salivating at the prospect of getting my hands on that trident controller. I finally got my chance when my dad rented the system for me for a week during the summer and everything changed for me.
I couldn't believe what I was playing. Everything was so crisp and gorgeous. The world was so alive. There were so many things to do. Mario was so nimble! It was unbelievable. No amount of previews could have prepared me for that game.
As I've said before, it's the only game that ever made me forget to eat. I played from 9am to 6pm and didn't stop once because I didn't even realize how much time had passed.
Christopher: Super Mario 64 was the most amazing thing I've ever experienced in my long gaming lifestyle. It's the first game that completely blew away every cell of my being when I first played it, and it is still to this day my favourite Mario title.
Joe: I don't think there's been many "perfect" video games, but Super Mario 64 comes the closest for me in absolutely every aspect.
Gaz: So I’m gonna go ahead and make myself unpopular by admitting I never played Super Mario 64 until it came out on the Virtual Console... Chalk that one up to bad life choices. I guess that’s why I don’t have any particular fondness for the game itself. It’s fun yes, and the graphics have a certain charm to them, but whenever I play it now (I have since bought it on N64), there’s just something not quite right. It might be the lack of direction, it might be the slightly off control of Mario, but Mario 64 for me is a game that falls very much in the good but not great pile.
Tom: I'm in the group that loves this game, though perhaps unlike some of its 2D brethren it has a few problems, simply because it was the first game of its type on fledgling technology. In terms of its role as a defining moment in modern gaming its place is secured, in my view.
Christopher: I can understand how people who didn't experience Mario 64 as their first foray into the 3D dimension don't find it so outstanding, but for those of us who did... Wow!
Tom: That's probably absolutely right, Chris.
Joe: I still think it's kind of the gold standard for 3D platformers. There were a lot of growing pains, sure, but it introduced a lot of things and did them so well it's just kind of the measuring stick for the genre. At least, if you ask me.
Christopher: I really want to go pull on Mario's nose right now Des!
Desiree: Mario 64 brought sheer exploration in a platforming game to whole new levels. Yeah, the camera was kind of fiddly, and sometimes it was hard to see exactly where you were (or where you were about to land) depth-wise, but the growing pains were worth it just to be playing the next generation of Mario gaming. There was so much to do, so much to see and discover, and even when you were done with the main stars in the paintings, there were all the 100-coin stars to tackle too, and then the secret stars hidden throughout Peach's castle. I remember being so confused that Toadstool was now Peach. (Laughs)
I'm one who really loves to explore in games, though. There were times I'd turn on the N64 and just run around for hours doing absolutely nothing, jumping off walls, punching butterflies, just swimming around and looking at all the crazy fish and bubbles all around, and flying too! Don't even get me started with the Wing Cap. For those of us who came from the NES and SNES eras and dove directly into the 64-bit stuff, it was a crazy revolution in how we thought about a Mario game.
Gaz: 100star coins are the bane of my existence...
Desiree: They're not for the faint of heart.
Joe: Can we talk about how wonderful Koji Kondo's soundtrack for Super Mario 64 is for a minute?
Tom: Why not!
Joe: Because the File Select theme is my favourite song from any video game ever, no joke. It honest to goodness makes me misty-eyed.
Gaz: Just going to go out on a limb here and propose that Super Mario World had better music that SM64...
Joe: Oh, and "Cool Cool Mountain" is my de facto ringtone during the winter months.
Desiree: The first video game song that ever made me misty-eyed was the ending theme song from SMB3. I remember actually having tears in my eyes the first time I heard it.
Christopher: Tick Tock Clock was/is perfection!
Desiree: I... er... I actually don't think about the SM64 soundtrack much, if at all.
Tom: After Mario 64 Nintendo clearly wanted to continue in the 3D direction. Super Mario Sunshine maybe got criticised for not being Super Mario 64 2. What did you think of it?
Desiree: I skipped the Gamecube generation, so this one's all yours, guys.
Joe: Chalk me up as one of those who wrote it off for not being 64 part 2. I played it and liked it, but after the level variety of Super Mario 64 the all-summer levels of Sunshine turned me off. That was me being stubborn, though, and while it's not my favourite Mario game I definitely enjoy it and feel the urge to pop it in whenever it gets hot out!
Christopher: Super Mario Sunshine was the sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2 in many ways. Sunshine was absolutely beautiful — those water effects! — but, it's "weirdness" just felt so different, and yet it still had that "Mario" feel to it as well, much like SMB2. I think it's a fantastic, stand-out title in the Mario franchise that everyone should give a try.
Super Mario Sunshine was the sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2 in many ways. Sunshine was absolutely beautiful — those water effects! — but, it's "weirdness" just felt so different, and yet it still had that "Mario" feel to it as well, much like SMB2.
Joe: That's actually a really good way of summing it up, Chris.
Tom: I do plan to play Sunshine this year, as I’m curious to see just how different it is.
Joe: I wouldn't mind having my own F.L.U.D.D. after how hot it's been lately!
Christopher: Just throwing this out there, but I'd have liked to see a sequel to Sunshine at launch for Wii U, instead of NSMB U.
Tom: Don’t you worry, we’ll get to New Super Mario Bros. U!
Gaz: The reason I didn’t get SM64 when it came out was because my parents got me a PSOne rather than a N64, and for some time there was a real possibility I’d never go back to Nintendo.
But reading the old CVG magazine changed everything when Mario Sunshine came along. I was absolutely captivated by it, reading absolutely everything I could find on the game, and devouring new screenshots as the came out. My parents took me to an electronics trade show to try it out, we bought a GameCube and Sunshine, and the rest is history.
It really was the game that brought me back to Nintendo. I absolutely adored everything about it – the beautiful landscapes, the clever level design (the Pinball level was so much fun) and of course the return of Yoshi. Aside from the voice acting, it’s my second favourite game for the GameCube, and that’s a lofty title to hold.
Tom: We'll come to the revival of 2D in a moment. Sticking with 3D for now, did the Super Mario Galaxy games on Wii move the series forward, or try to perfect what had come before?
I think the Galaxy games are sensational, personally.
Joe: I think they were a very neat twist on the 3D platforming formula. The gravity mechanics were an absolute blast to wrestle with and rocketing off between worlds was just so exhilarating! It was also the first new Mario game to come out since I had moved in with my girlfriend (who is now my wife) so getting to share it with her was great. That leads to the Co-Star system... even if it was only for picking up power-ups and pinning down enemies, giving another player something to do in a one-player Mario game made it that much more fun.
Gaz: The Galaxy games just took 3D Mario and perfected it. The original Mario Galaxy, for me, is the greatest 3D platformer ever made, narrowly missing out of greatest game to Mario World.
Aside from the grand music and the beautiful graphics, the game handled superbly and as an added bonus had some mind-bending gravity effects. Without those it would have been great, with it, the game just took on a whole other level of greatness.
The original still edges it for me though. The hub world in Galaxy was superb, and having level hubs such as the Honeyhive Galaxy rather than individual levels like Galaxy 2 felt much better. That’s not to say Galaxy 2 was bad – it was utterly brilliant, but it felt a bit more disjointed than the perfection that was Super Mario Galaxy.
Christopher: When Nintendo dropped Galaxy onto Wii, it was out of this world... literally! But, while the initial satisfaction of the zany gameplay elements were so much fun, the low difficulty eventually broke the game's level of immersion for me. But, Galaxy 2 fixed that and added so much more awesomeness on top of what Galaxy built that it blew me clear into another dimension. Galaxy 2 just oozed pure Nintendo bliss!
Joe: You must be tougher than me, Chris, I thought Galaxy was pretty challenging in some spots! Some of those coin stars... oy.
Gaz: Nowhere near as difficult as those Green Stars...
Desiree: Since my previous home-console Mario game had been Mario 64, it really felt like a bit of both. The graphics were astonishing compared to what I'd seen and played before, the physics were surprisingly natural (given that you're turned upside-down and around quite a bit as you navigate from planet to planet), and the stars to collect were a lot of fun — some felt a bit cheap, but that's nothing Mario 64 didn't give us. I've already said that I love exploring, and the hub world has quite a bit of space available for running around and being silly and also plenty of secrets to discover and unlock. My favourite part was the soundtrack, though! To me, that was probably one of the best things they could've done for the series in order to enrich the Mario gaming experience, to get away from the synthesized stuff and bring an orchestra in.
Galaxy 2 felt like more of the same, though I definitely missed the larger hub world and galaxy-unlocking layout. For some reason it just doesn't strike me with the same level of charm and fun that the original Galaxy did. I went out of my way to get every single star in Galaxy 1, but 2 I just beat once and that was it.
Tom: Galaxy 2 was the ultimate in my view, and I'm proud of my 242 star save!
Gaz: While I liked the 242 stars of Galaxy 2, I have to say I enjoyed revisiting everything as Luigi in Galaxy. Was like a best of tour of the game, just on skates.
Desiree: I think the only part I really didn't like about Galaxy was the 'story'. It felt tacked-on to me.
Tom: Before we go all 2D, let's talk about Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS. In some senses it merged 2D and 3D styles, while also trying to make good use of 3D stereoscopic visuals. Did it work for you?
Christopher: At first, the stereoscopic 3D visuals in SM3DL blew me away, but now I've gotten so used to them that the gameplay takes the centre stage. What makes this game so great for me is that it has a Mario 64 feel to it, but successfully merges elements of the 2D days of the franchise along with it. I'd complain about its difficulty, but that all changes once the second part of the game takes off and the game's brilliance truly starts to shine through. While it isn't the perfect Mario title, it's still one of my personal favourites, and one that every single 3DS owner should have in their library.
Joe: I agree with Chris, in a lot of ways it feels like Super Mario 64 Lite. It's definitely a solid game and I loved the difficulty spike after the game lulls you into a false sense of security. I definitely enjoyed my time with it, but in a way it all feels... shallow, I guess? What's there is great, it just feels like there's not enough of it. I played it, beat it to 100% completion pretty quickly and that was it. I definitely want more!
Desiree: I'm not really a 3D kind of girl, I've mentioned in other places that it hurts my eyes after a very short while, so I really only used it in places that 'required' it and that was all. I had a hard time in some levels where quick precision landings were required because gauging depth was iffy, shadow or no. I knew what I was getting myself into, so I can't blame the game for trying to make people use the 3D effect, and of course I couldn't let a Mario game pass by without picking it up, but SM3DL kind of fell flat with me. I'm hoping it's not the same with NSMB2.
I also gotta say I'm getting kind of tired of the 'you've beaten the game with Mario, now do it with Luigi!' schtick they introduced with SMG. It feels like a cheap way to lengthen the game for completionists. I like unlocking the special levels after beating the main game, but having to do everything twice over when I shouldn't have to just irritates me for some reason.
Joe: The 3D is really the most memorable thing about it for me, but I guess that's obvious. Some of the leaps of faith you need to make, with very long falls, had me holding my breath because the stereoscopic 3D made it feel so real.
Desiree: I was also quite disappointed that there was no flying involved.
Tom: I adored it, but can appreciate why, for some, it was slightly flat. It pushed all of my buttons, personally, and I loved some of the 2D/3D transitions, while some levels made wonderful use of stereoscopic visuals. I simply cannot get enough of it.
Gaz: Quite frankly no, and it’s by far my least loved Mario game ever released (I still haven’t finished the Special Worlds). It might be because of the sheer volume of Mario titles we’re getting at the moment, but it really didn’t do anything revolutionary enough for me to find it special. The game felt a lot like a 3D Mario game, with all the exploration and invention taken out, which of course, is bad. Everything is borrowed from somewhere else – Tanooki Mario is back, flagpoles are back, panels that flip when you jump are back, and basically everything else in the game is from somewhere else. I’ve already played with these ideas before, I don’t need to do it again...
Christopher: I agree that it's a bit short, but the game's simplicity and pickup-and-play approach really appeals to me personally.
Desiree: I haven't finished the special worlds yet either, Gaz — every time I think about it, something else I want to play pops up.
Joe: I like that the worlds are shorter because on a handheld you really need games that can be played in bite-sized chunks... but if they're shorter, I want more of them!
Tom: Gaz has raised the issue or 'been there, seen it before', so let's go to 2D's revival and really look at them critically. To start with New Super Mario Bros. on DS, did you think it was a return to 2D form, or were gamers so desperate for new 2D Mario that they just accepted what they were given?
Joe: New Super Mario Bros was pretty okay, but it was like the original game: fun in its own right, but pretty basic and it really just laid the groundwork for better things.
Desiree: In retrospect, I think we were so desperate that we accepted what we were given.
There are quite a few things I don't like about NSMB. It laid the groundwork for New Super Mario Bros. Wii, though, so it wasn't all bad, I guess.
Man, do I remember being jazzed as hell for it though! NSMB was the reason I picked up a DS in the first place.
Joe: I loved how Mario would talk to you whenever you closed/opened your DS when the game was on though. That was rad.
Gaz: I remember playing it like crazy when I got it, and absolutely loved it despite its shortness. Having not played a 2D Mario game since the late 1990s, it was refreshing to go back to the simplicity of gaming when I was first getting into it. But looking back, it hasn’t stayed as good as it was. It’s a fine Mario platformer, but perhaps getting more of the same isn’t always a good thing...
Christopher: I was craving a 2D Mario title when NSMB came out of DS. I adored the game, and actually ended up buying my wife a pink DS so we could play the mini-games together. I found the game to be quite refreshing, and one memorable moment that I had with the game wasn't of me playing it, but a friend of mine who crashed the night at my house, found it and stayed up that night until he beat the entire game straight through.
Desiree: The mini-games were a lot of fun, I'll admit — my husband and I played them together quite a bit. They were kind of cheesy, though.
Christopher: I do agree that the game wasn't perfect and if anything, made me realize how much I enjoyed the old 2D titles so much, but it's a game that I'm glad Nintendo took the time to develop, as it's still one I pull out to play from time to time.
Gaz: And let's face it, it must have done something right to sell so well...
Desiree: Actually, it hit at the same time as the Lite. The reason it probably sold so well is likely a combination of that (they were running deals where you could get the game and the console together) and banking on the Mario name, plus the commercial campaign they ran.
Tom: Let's talk about NSMB Wii and two things in particular. Did you think the level designs stepped it up a notch, and what did you make of that crazy multiplayer mode?
Christopher: I'm going to catch it for this, but if there's one thing that I can't deal with, it's controls that I can't come to grips with. While I'm not one to ditch something before giving it a really good effort, I just couldn't ever come to grips with NSMB Wii's controls. The forced motion controls bugged me so badly that I ended up hurling a Wii Remote across the room. I picked the game up again for a second try a few months back and I just can't get into it. I find the game to be far more frustrating than fun, and it's not from level design, it's from the controls.
Joe: I think the level design of NSMBW was tied directly into its multiplayer mode; those stages were built from the ground up to be mayhem for multiple players! It was really tough for my wife and me to get through it, as we're both seasoned Mario vets suddenly forced to share the screen! It was an absolute blast, though, and due to the fact that it let us play together, with both of us being active, I like it better than both Galaxy games.
Gaz: I have a group of friends who have never played a platformer in their lives – NSMBWii changed that. I fondly remember inviting them over one night and starting to play it at 8pm. At 6am the next morning as the Sun was rising we conquered Bowser’s Castle, with only one of us making it out alive. It’s one of my fondest gaming memories, and to finally be able to share my favourite series with my friends was a really special moment.
In terms of single-player, the game did a lot right. The Propeller Suit may not be a classic (the Penguin however is), but it added some much needed verticality to the levels, and the return of Yoshi just made it even better. However it still feels very conservative – at its heart, the game is still NSMB, and doesn’t exactly reinvent the franchise. For me, this was the first time the Mario series began to feel somewhat stagnant.
Christopher: Maybe that's the difference that I had with the game, as I played it entirely in single player.
Desiree: I do think the level designs stepped it up a notch. You had the gyroscopic sensor in the Wii Remote so they could do the crazy tilting platforms, there were levels with sand traps, the rotating-block platforms, and all that Wii Remote shaking... my wrists hadn't hurt that bad since I finished Twilight Princess (laughs). I could really feel the SMB3 influence, and at times it took me back, but then other times I was left with a propeller suit or a penguin suit and wondering what the hell had been done to one of my favourite franchises. I love the Ice Flower, but I hate the Penguin Suit!
Gaz: You can't hate the Penguin Suit! It's Mario, in a Penguin Suit, what's not the love?
Desiree: It makes about as much sense as Spiderman in a safari outfit — none!
Gaz: Nor does a Frog Suit, but that's awesome.
Joe: The penguin suit was great! I loved sliding around going after those secret coins.
Christopher: Yep, I did enjoy the penguin suit bits, but it's the shaking the dang Wii Remote that pushed me over the edge of the cliff.
Desiree: The frog suit actually serves a purpose, and if you beat one of the Koopa Kids with it on you get a special message. The penguin suit just looks silly. That and the shell suit from NSMB, I didn't like either of them.
On the final page of this round table, we debate the current standing of Super Mario, the trends we're seeing in the series and what we want to see in the future.